Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Running vs. Walking for Breast Cancer Survivors

Runners were less likely than walkers to die of the disease during nine-year study, but the findings aren't foolproof

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Kathleen Doheny

HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Feb. 7, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Exercise has long been credited with both reducing the risk of breast cancer and surviving the disease.

Now a new study suggests, but doesn't prove, that breast cancer survivors who run have an even greater survival edge than those who walk.

"Exercise per se lowers the risk of breast cancer death, but, more importantly, we found a difference between walkers and runners," said study author Paul Williams, a staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif.

"We see these huge reductions [in breast cancer deaths] in women who run -- much greater than those who walk," Williams said. "[Even so], we don't see this as negating the benefit of walking."

But running appears to confer more protection than walking in reducing the risk of dying from breast cancer, he said.

The study was published online recently in the International Journal of Cancer.

Williams compared two groups from his long-running National Runners' and Walker's Health Study. He followed nearly 300 runners and more than 700 walkers, all of whom had been diagnosed with breast cancer. During the nine-year study, 33 of the walkers and 13 of the runners died from breast cancer.

Williams took into account other factors that might influence survival, such as age, family history, race and menopausal status.

When he looked at all the women as a single group, he found about a 25 percent reduction in death from breast cancer during the follow-up period for every mile of brisk walking or two-thirds of a mile of running.

When he looked at just the runners, however, he found that the same amount of running reduced the risk of death by more than 40 percent. The runners who averaged more than two and a quarter miles per day had a 95 percent lower risk of death from breast cancer during the follow-up period.

The walkers' risk of breast cancer death for every mile walked each day declined just 5 percent, which wasn't statistically significant, Williams said.

Williams said he can't explain the link between more vigorous exercise and a lower death risk. And he found only an association between the two, not a cause-and-effect link.

"Running may be more effective in interrupting the hormone cycle and lowering estrogen in a woman's system," he said, and the lower estrogen levels mean less fuel for breast cancer to grow.

But some breast cancer experts have reservations about the study findings, including Leslie Bernstein, director of cancer etiology at the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Institute, in Duarte, Calif.

Although the message to exercise is a good one, the data used for the study lacks some vital information, Bernstein said.

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
 
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
 
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
VIDEO
Resolved To Quit Smoking
SLIDESHOW
 
Woman getting mammogram
Article
Screening Tests for Women
SLIDESHOW
 
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
serious woman
Article
 
what is your cancer risk
HEALTH CHECK
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow
SLIDESHOW